Building off last week’s conversation between Kim and Colleen Kim Daniher, this week we’ve got another conversation in the form of interview between Kelsey and author Amanda Leduc. In it, Amanda and I chat about the pedagogy of fairytales, disability representation, writing tips, and responsible social media use for public figures.
KB: Let’s start by having you introduce yourself.
AL: My name is Amanda Leduc. I’m a writer based in Hamilton. In my day job, I work as the communications coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity, based in Brampton, Ontario.
I’m also an author. I published a novel in 2013 called The Miracles of Ordinary Men and have a new non-fiction book, coming out in February 2020, called Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space. It’s about how the representation of disability in fairy tales has been historically less than positive but has also influenced how disability is portrayed in the media today. I weave that in with my own narrative as a disabled woman with cerebral palsy. Then, I have another novel coming out hopefully in the Spring of 2021.
KB: As the curator for a pedagogy and performance blog, I’m interested in the teaching element of fairy tales. Do you think fairy tales have changed in terms of their teaching ability?
AL: Fairy tales have always had that didactic purpose. They exist to teach us morals about how to live in the world. In fact, one of the things that’s powerful about fairy tales is that they have a social purpose in terms of reaching for a world that’s better. The hero at the beginning of the fairy tale has a particular kind of life that they want to escape in some shape or form. And in the fairy tales that end happily, they manage to escape that life.
The interesting thing for me is that that model doesn’t really apply to the disabled body. You don’t have stories about how society needs to change. You have stories about personal transformation: the ugly beast is made beautiful at the end of the tale and marries the beautiful princess.
I was really transfixed by this idea that the disabled, othered, body has to change in a fairy tale in order for some sort of happy ending or conclusion to come about. It’s never society that changes. Disability is almost a character flaw or some sort of physical flaw that can be overcome if someone just wants to do it badly enough. When you, then, apply that fairy tale framework to the stories that we tell in modern day, a lot of those same threads continue to perpetuate myths and stereotypes of disability.
This is the kind of conversation that’s been going on in disability activism and disability studies for decades but in the mainstream world, it hasn’t been talked about as much.
KB: How do you see yourself intervening in that?
AL: I hope that my new book will get people thinking differently about the way the disabled body is portrayed in fairy tales.
Fairy hit us at such a young age that they really have a lasting impact on the way we move through the world. And the way that we approach certain kinds of stories. Their stories offer very pervasive, insidious, ways of teaching young children especially about disability. And very specific, hard, ideas, about what it means to be different in the world.
I think that’s changing, but it’s still there.
I also think we need to be increasing disability representation. There’s a real thing that happens where people like myself, who have a disability that is maybe milder than others, work to minimize their disability. I worked for a large portion of my life to pretend that my disability wasn’t there because I didn’t feel I could be accepted in the world as a person with a disability.
If we normalize disability and normalize the idea that the world is full of people who are all different shapes and sizes and have different abilities and do different things, it doesn’t become this othering. We all have different needs, and we can build a world that can accommodate those different needs but we have to do it together.
KB: Switching gears, many of our readers do a lot of writing. What are your top three tips for getting writing done?
Step One: Put your bum in the chair. That has to happen.
Step Two: Try to minimize distractions. I need to put my phone far away and turn off social media notifications on my computer. Disconnect the Internet if possible.
Step Three: Create a ritual around the writing. I make sure I have nice cup of tea. I make sure the chair is comfortable and that the desk is clean. I put some nice music on. That helps it feel like an enjoyable experience. Because, you know, sometimes writing is not. So, at least if I have the trappings of things that I like around me, I can delve into the work. That might be frustrating but it’s still enjoyable on some level because I’m surrounded by things that I love.
KB: In addition to being a writer, you’re also an active social media user. Kim and I have chatted a lot about the quagmire of using social media as an information dissemination and pedagogical tool. What’s your experience of social media been like?
AL: Twitter has undergone a really interesting evolution over the last ten years. It used to be this optimistic and lovely place for people to come together with like-minded groups of people. Now, it has transmorphed into to a place that is better in some ways because it’s really offered a platform for communities that might not get the opportunity to speak otherwise, like the disability community, which is very active on Twitter. But, also just because you can say something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
KB: What would your three social media tips be for educators and researchers?
AL: As someone who is specifically as an educator, you really have a difficult line to walk in terms of allowing some of your personality in your public profile. This is what endears people to you. It’s what helps build a community. But, also, you can’t reveal too much or be too “real” if you will. That’s hard.
First, be sure to inject some personality into your social media but then also be very careful and strategic about the boundaries you put in place to protect yourself and others.
Second, set out very clear boundaries for yourself: these are the kinds of interactions that I will not engage in.
Third, one of the things that’s been most helpful for me is thinking of social media as a conversation. It has been just as fascinating to listen to Twitter conversations as it has been to participate in them. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind. It’s important always to be listening as much, if not more, than speaking. Because it’s a learning process for all of us. Students and teachers alike.
For more on Amanda’s upcoming book, Disfigured On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, go here.